If I walk into a room and greet someone, but they respond with a grunt, I automatically take it personally and assume it must be something I said or did.
Likewise, if someone cancels an appointment or treats me with less respect than I reckon I’m due, I will often take it as a reflection of who I am. If the cancellation was important enough, I might feel disregarded, and maybe even rejected.
Last week my Therapist Paul cancelled my session. Well, he didn’t exactly cancel, but I turned up at the service only to discover he wasn’t there and the staff had forgotten to let me know. The whole palaver felt hugely irritating because we have now missed six sessions within eight months.
I will not make excuses why this came at the wrong time or how grumpy I was to begin with. Recent therapy is learning to be honest about my feelings, especially the unhappy ones. I expressed annoyance at Paul’s secretary and then I stomped my way through Thursday before blowing off more steam during group therapy on Friday.
I was tired of allowing people to walk all over me as though I’m an idiot. I moaned about how difficult it is to have an unreliable Therapist and how rude of Paul not to call the next day to apologise, “It just proves what he thinks of me,” I whimpered along… “And if he can’t be bothered calling before next week’s session, then I won’t bother attending.” Sometimes I forget how old I am.
I was giving it a good old run for its money and in the process of my tizzy, something inside my mind suddenly switched. I’m not usually good at taking a step back to identify my own feelings or those of my opponent, not when there’s steam belching from my ears.
Of course, I was feeling rejected, disregarded, disrespected, and maybe even a tiny winy bit emotionally abused. However, it finally dawned that the therapy services weren’t going out their way to cause this distress on purpose. My unreasonable and erratic response was associated with triggers from defending my early life from narcissists.
Narcissistic parents exert a wide spectrum of violence and intimidation towards their children, but another tool they use with skill is rejection. They see misbehaviour or criticism as a major challenge of their own perfection and will subsequently withhold love, conversation, and even presents, in response to questioning or not living up to their flawlessness.
How do I know Paul wasn’t responding to another client’s crisis, or one of his own? Who am I to judge the service for being so overwhelmed they forgot to call me, just this one time? Why does it always have to be about me?
Growing up in a controlling and abusive environment hardwires the brain into assuming that whenever someone is abrupt or when things don’t quite go our way, it’s a personal reflection or rejection of who we are as individuals. If those early caregivers abused, rejected, or humiliated us, it’s easy to assume other people are doing the same.
Sometimes people are too busy to be perfect all of the time, other people are simply just having a bad day, but this doesn’t reflect how they feel about me. Maybe their budgie died or they might be responding to someone who has more needs than I do.
This change of thinking is one of a few transitions going on at present. They are just in time for our two-week therapy break. While I miss the sessions, it feels an important time to just sit back and allow the process to take shape. I don’t have a clue what this “process” is all about, but I am distinctly aware of its presence.